Urban Cyclist - - Agenda - In­ter­view: James Witts

I’VE BEEN FRAMEBUILDING for around three-and-a-half years. Be­fore that, I worked as a sculp­tor cre­at­ing large-scale pieces of art for public dis­play. I also trained as a jew­eller and sil­ver­smith. I en­joyed the prac­ti­cal side of things but, well, the art world frus­trated me. You’d spend a great deal of time talk­ing about your work and jus­ti­fy­ing it. To me the whole point of art is that it speaks for it­self. I BRAINSTORMED WITH FRIENDS what I should do next. I en­joyed prob­lem solv­ing, mak­ing things and work­ing with metal. At the time, I was cy­cling more and more, and be­came in­volved with the Lon­don Bike Kitchen. It’s a DIY workspace where they teach you how to fix your bike. I then at­tended the Vulpine sum­mer fair and it was a rev­e­la­tion – I didn’t know peo­ple still made frames in this coun­try. I thought my skills are trans­fer­able, I en­joy work­ing with metal… The seeds were sown. I NEARLY MOVED INTO SURGERY. One of the stu­dents I taught sil­ver­smith to was a sur­geon and said I had the right skillset for the pro­fes­sion. I was 30 and thought I’d be too old but fast-track­ing was an op­tion. I loved art and sci­ence at school and gen­uinely con­sid­ered it, but I loved cy­cling too much and thought surgery would mean no time for the bike.

I HAD WORK EX­PE­RI­ENCE with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, like Rusby Cy­cles and Saf­fron Frame­works, to see what day-to-day work­shop life was like. Then Jenny [Gwiaz­dowski], a di­rec­tor at the Lon­don Bike Kitchen, had her bike stolen. So she was look­ing for an­other bike and, be­cause she’s pretty short, ide­ally be­spoke. She cut a deal with me that she’d give me the money to go on the course at Bi­cy­cle Academy – around £2,000 – and then I’d make her a bike. It was a deal.


FIRST BIKE be­yond my time at the Academy. I painted it as well and, amaz­ingly, the bright blue and red with stain­less-steel flashes looked beau­ti­ful. I thought this paint­ing lark is easy, I don’t know why ev­ery­one goes on about how hard it is. Then the next five frames I painted I messed up com­pletely! I RE­ALLY LOVE BRAZING, though that’s a re­ally small part of the process. In fact, I en­joy dif­fer­ent parts of the job de­pend­ing on my mood. Last night, for in­stance, I was there clean­ing up the shore­lines of lugs against the back­drop of an au­dio­book by Re­becca Sol­nit and was to­tally im­mersed. But some days I’d be think­ing this is the worst job ever! WHEN I STARTED I WAS THE ONLY FE­MALE IN THE UK FRAMEBUILDING so cer­tainly stood out. Now there are a few more. Re­sponse from peo­ple is of­ten a gen­er­a­tional thing. Some of the older com­mu­nity will be like, ‘Oh, this is novel. Well done, well done.’ I used to think it pa­tro­n­is­ing but it’s sweet – in a way! The younger crowd don’t re­ally bat an eye­lid but it’ll be nice when a fe­male framebuilding is a non-is­sue.

I’M AT­TEND­ING BESPOKED [hand­made bike show, Bris­tol, 7-9 April 2017] and will be bring­ing down an ul­tra-be­spoke stain­less steel road bike that I’ve been mak­ing on and off for the past six months for a cus­tomer. (Usu­ally it takes two to three weeks.) It fea­tures a bi-lam­i­nate head­tube, cus­tom skew­ers and de­sign as­pects that are loosely based on a 1929 Rolls Royce Phan­tom. I’m also work­ing on a top-se­cret project with Talbot Frame­works.

Bespoked’s the show I en­joy most but it’s a night­mare to pre­pare for be­cause you put so much pres­sure on your­self. Ev­ery­one’s up all hours look­ing to cre­ate their most beau­ti­ful bike. I’ll spend now un­til April get­ting ready and stress­ing about it!

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